By Kathy Jefcoats
ATLANTA — Two Forest Park police officers threw their colleagues "under the bus" when they opted to trade their careers and integrity for a few thousand dollars, said Chief Dwayne Hobbs Tuesday.
Sergeants Victor Middlebrook, 44, of Jonesboro and Andrew Monroe, 57, of Riverdale were arrested in a round-up Tuesday. Federal officials said the two men provided protection to drug dealers in exchange for thousands of dollars.
Hobbs said the men were just promoted several months ago. He said the investigation leading to the arrests surprised him.
"We got a lot of citizen commendations about these guys' attitudes and demeanors," he said. "It was shocking. We just haven't been involved in this kind of thing."
Monroe joined the department in 2002 and Middlebrook in September 2008. Hobbs said the men have been relieved of their duties pending termination.
"There's a process leading to termination," he said.
Hobbs said he met with his police force Tuesday to announce the arrests.
"Something like this is a strain on all law enforcement," he said. "We bow our necks and weather the storm. They have mixed emotions, there were tears and anger. For every one of them, there are thousands of us who do the right thing, what we need to do to provide protection for all citizens."
Hobbs said he realizes corruption exists across all industries and careers and crooked cops aren't a novelty.
"The question is, what do you do about it?" he said. "The answer is aggressive prosecution, hold them up as examples. These men took an oath to uphold the law. They threw us all under the bus when they sold us out."
The entire operation was a federal undercover sting that grew out of an investigation into allegations the officers were offering criminals paid police protection, said officials.
MARTA police Officer Marquez Holmes, 45, of Jonesboro, was also arrested.
Civilian Alexander S. Hill, 22, of Ellenwood was arrested for allegedly impersonating a Clayton County police officer while providing security for what he believed were three separate drug transactions in the Atlanta area.
Officials said during an initial meeting, Hill wore a uniform that appeared to be from Clayton police, but during the transactions he wore plainclothes and, for at least the first deal, a badge displayed on his belt. For these services, Hill reportedly received payments totaling $9,000 in cash, said officials. Hill was charged with attempted possession with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine and with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
The men made their first appearances in U.S. Magistrate Court Tuesday morning.
U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said the arrests mark a troubling day in local law enforcement.
“The law enforcement officers charged today sold their badges by taking payoffs from drug dealers that they should have been arresting,” she said. “They not only betrayed the citizens they were sworn to protect, they also betrayed the thousands of honest, hard-working law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day to keep us safe. We will continue to work with our local law enforcement partners to pursue this corruption wherever it lies.”
The undercover operation arose out of an ATF investigation of an Atlanta area street gang in August 2011. ATF agents learned from someone associated with the gang that police officers were involved in protecting the gang’s criminal operations, including drug trafficking crimes, said Yates. According to this cooperating individual, the officers — while wearing uniforms, driving police vehicles, or otherwise displaying badges — provided security to the gang members during drug deals.
In affidavits filed in support of the charges, an FBI agent described how drug traffickers sometimes recruit law enforcement officers to maintain a physical presence at drug deals, said Yates. The traffickers hope that the officers’ presence at the drug deals will prevent rival drug groups from intervening and stealing their drugs or money, and also keeps legitimate law enforcement officers away from the scene.
In return for the corrupt officers’ services, the drug dealers often pay the officers thousands of dollars, according to the affidavits. Holmes is accused of providing protection for what he believed to be four separate transactions in the Atlanta area that involved multiple kilograms of cocaine. For the transactions, Holmes and a co-defendant accepted $9,000 in cash.
During the transactions, Holmes was dressed in his MARTA police uniform and carried a gun in a holster on his belt, said Yates. In two of the transactions, Holmes patrolled on foot in the parking lots in which the undercover sales took place and monitored the transactions. During the other two deals, Holmes drove to the site in his MARTA police cruiser and parked next to the vehicles in which the undercover drug sale took place.
Holmes is charged with conspiring to commit extortion by accepting bribe payments, attempted possession with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
In Forest Park, between October and December 2012, Middlebrook and Monroe, sometimes working alone and at other times together, provided protection for what they believed were six separate drug deals in the Atlanta area, all involving multiple kilograms of cocaine, said Yates. For his services in the first four transactions, Middlebook accepted cash payments totaling $13,800.
During these transactions, Middlebrook wore plainclothes, but displayed his badge and a firearm in a holster on his belt. He patrolled on foot in the parking lots nearby the vehicles in which the undercover sales took place and appeared to be monitoring the transactions. For the final two transactions, both Middlebrook and Monroe provided security and were given cash payments totaling $10,400. Middlebrook again monitored the transactions on foot in plainclothes while displaying his badge and gun, while Monroe watched from his vehicle in the parking lot and afterward escorted the purchaser of the sham cocaine for several miles, said Yates.
Middlebrook and Monroe are charged with conspiring to commit extortion by accepting bribe payments and attempted possession with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine; Middlebrook is also charged with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
If convicted, the men face years in federal prison and millions of dollars in fines.
All defendants should be considered innocent until proven guilty.